Modern Political Communication and Rhetoric (Syllabus)

Classes start at The George Washington University next week, which means another spring of ranting about rhetoric and conversations trying to make sense of the campaign season. And as always there will be Aristotle. Given current political events, should be an eventful semester.

Below is the current working draft of the syllabus with most of the logistics redacted:

Modern Political Communication and Rhetoric

Weds. 6:10 – 8:40  MPA 308

Instructor: Peter Loge

The world is still in want of clear-headed citizens, tempered by historical perspective, disciplined by rational thinking and moral compass, who speak well and write plainly.”
– Prof. Lee Pelton, President of Emerson College

Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the art of discovering all the available means of persuasion in a given situation.” In this course we will look at both theories of persuasion – how people are led to the political conclusions they reach – and the application of those theories to current political debates.

Electronics Policy

I have a zero-tolerance policy for texting. If I see you texting I will ask you first to turn it off, then to leave. I have a zero-tolerance policy for phones. Turn the ringer off. If it rings, turn it off. If you answer it I will ask you to leave. Otherwise I trust that if you are using electronics it is to advance the course – checking speeches or commercials for example. As you think about whether or when to use a computer in the classroom consider:

  • Research finds that note taking by hand is better than taking notes on a computer because you are forced to process the information more.
  • Research finds that multi-tasking fails. If you try to pay attention to more than one thing at once, you will fully pay attention to neither.
  • Your activity on your screen distracts those around you. Your actions that diminish your engagement in the class have the effect of diminishing the engagement of those around you.
  • If I see you on a site that is not clearly and obviously connected to the class I will publicly call you out on it and ask you to turn it off or leave.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes

In this course you will learn what you come to learn. You will learn prudence in affairs private as well as public; you will learn to order your own house in the best manner, and you will be able to speak and act for the best in the affairs of the state. In other words, you will learn the art of politics.

Specifically students will be able to:

  • Critically analyze a political speech;
  • Construct a successful persuasive appeal;
  • Write a research paper;
  • Write a short essay; and
  • Engage in a critical conversation.


Jan 13 Intro to course/Lecture

Jan 20 Aristotle

Aristotle’s Rhetoric Book I, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and Book II, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 available at and elsewhere.

Jan 27 First Essay Due

Discuss your essays and the morality of attempting to teach “the art of politics.”

“Protagoras” by Plato. Available at and elsewhere

Feb 3 Discuss Weaver

Excerpts from Richard Weaver as well as Roland, Robert C. and John M. Jones “Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate: Moral Clarity Tempered by Pragmatism” Rhetoric and Public Affairs Vol 9 No 1 2006

Feb 10 Discuss Burke

Excerpts from A Grammar of Motives and Language as Symbolic Action Kenneth Burke and

“The Rhetoric of Identification and the Study of Organizational Communication”, George Cheney, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol 69, 1983, pp 143 – 158

Feb 17 Second Essay Due
Discuss Bormann 

Excerpts from Bormann and “An expansion of the rhetorical vision component of the symbolic convergence theory: The cold war paradigm case”, Ernest G. Bormann, John F Cragan, and Donald C. Shields, Communication Monographs, March 1996. Vol 63 Issue 1, p.1.

Feb 24 Historical Perspective

“The Rhetoric of Political Protest” by Harry P. Kerr, Quarterly Journal of Speech, April 1959, Vol 45 No 2

“From Rhetoric Deliver Us” Quarterly Journal of Speech April 1928 Excerpt from Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Bernard Bailyn, 1967

March 2 Discuss Civil Religion

“Civil Religion in America” by Robert Bellah, Deadalus, Vol. 96 No. 1, Winter 1967 (reprinted Vol 117, No 3, Summer 1988) and

“Tocqueville and the rhetoric of civil religion in the presidential inaugural addresses” by Michael E Bailey, Kristin Lindholm, Christian Scholar’s Review Spring 2003 (in ProQuest, not on Blackboard)



March 23 Rhetoric of Redemption

“The Rhetoric of Atonement” Joy Koesten and Robert Rowland, Communication Studies, Vol. 55, No. 1 Spring 2004, pp. 68- 87 and

“George W. Bush at Goree Island: American Slavery and the Rhetoric of Redemption” Martin Medhurst, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 96 No. 3, August 2010 pp. 257 – 277

March 30 Third Essay Due
Discuss Narrative 

“Telling America’s Story: Narrative Form and the Reagan Presidency.” By: Lewis, William F.. Quarterly Journal of Speech, Aug87, Vol. 73 Issue 3, p280, 23p;

“Story Time” By: Robert B. Reich. The New Republic.

March 28 – April 4, 2005

“Redemption and American Politics” by Dan P McAdams, Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/3/04;

“Get Me Rewrite!”, Joshua Wolf Shenk, Mother Jones, May/June 2004.

April 6 Discuss Rhetoric and Science

“The Role of Pathos in the Decision-Making Process: A Study in the Rhetoric of Science Policy” Quarterly Journal of Speech Craig Waddell Vol 76, Nov. 1990, pp.381-400;

“The Rhetoric of Intelligent Design: Alternatives for Science and Religion” Celeste Michelle Condi, Rhetoric and Public Affairs Vol 1 No 4, 1998 pp.593-602; and

“Revealing and Reframing Apocalyptic Tragedy in Global Warming Discourse” Christina R. Foust and William O’Shannon Murphy, Environmental Communication Vol. 3 No.2 July 2009 pp. 151-167

April 13 Discuss the Rhetoric of War

“Idealism and Pragmatism in American Foreign Policy Rhetoric: The case of John F. Kennedy and Vietnam” Presidential Studies Quarterly Denise Bostdorff and Steven Goldzwig, Summer 1994;

“The Rhetoric of Foreign Policy” Quarterly Journal of Speech Philip Wander, Vol 70 Nov. 1984;

“Obama’s Speech and the Rhetoric of War” The Hill Dec. 9, 2015,


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